Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2013.79
Title
Lotuses and Birds
Classification
Paintings
Work Type
painting, screen
Date
19th century
Places
Creation Place: East Asia, Korea
Period
Chosŏn dynasty, 1392-1910
Culture
Korean
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/349330
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Eight-panel folding screen; ink and color on paper
Dimensions
Each panel painting proper: H. 94.8 x W. 41.8 cm (37 5/16 x 16 7/16 in.)
Screen overall with mounting and wooden frame: H. 162.2 x W. 467.2 cm (63 7/8 x 183 15/16 in.)

Provenance
Private Collection, Korea (until 1968), by gift; to Private Collection, California (1968-2012), sold; [through Kang Collection, New York]; to Harvard Art Museums, 2013.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Acquired with a fund established by Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane for the purchase of Asian art and through the generosity of Alan J. and Suzanne W. Dworsky
Accession Year
2013
Object Number
2013.79
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
Painted with ink and colored pigments on paper, this magnificent eight-panel folding screen boasts a continuous scene of a lotus pond with tall, luxuriant stalks of lotus flowers, buds, and leaves interspersed with pairs of birds, fish, and other aquatic creatures. Each individual panel depicts clusters of lotus plants emerging from the bottom of a pond – white lotus blossoms and buds, their petals tinged with a touch of pink at the tips, are shown in various stages of growth atop long, thin stems; large, broad lotus leaves painted in rich hues of blue, green, or golden brown turn and curl in every direction. Each panel also includes at least one pair of birds or fish: Mandarin ducks, magpies, and kingfishers fly above or perch on the lotuses; waterfowl, fish, and a crab and shrimp appear below, as if standing in or lying beneath the water of the pond. Although the vertical panels may be viewed somewhat satisfyingly as individual compositions, the continuous lotus imagery elegantly undulates across each panel to create a visually stunning panorama.

This decorated screen is rife with auspicious symbolism. Wishes for marital bliss are conveyed by the pairs of birds and fish, while individual animals such as the crab, magpie, and shrimp, whose names in Chinese and Korean are reminiscent of words of good fortune, represent wishes for a life full of harmony, happiness, longevity, and prosperity. Whereas in the Buddhist and Confucian traditions, the lotus is an emblem of purity and the upright Confucian scholar, in the folk art tradition, the lotus pod’s abundance of seeds signify fecundity, and the word for lotus in both Chinese and Korean (Ch. lian, K. yŏn) is homonymous with the word for “continuity,” thereby suggesting a wish for the continuation of the family through the birth of many sons.

Painted folded screens were displayed in the rooms of virtually every household in Chosŏn-period Korea, from the royal palace to the homes of aristocratic government officials and commoners. As functioning pieces of furniture, screens divided rooms, provided privacy, and deflected drafts. As works of folk art, they decorated a living space and offered hope for good fortune through their auspicious symbolism. The elegant composition, skillful painting, rich materials, and relatively tall proportions of this screen of lotuses and birds suggest that it was likely commissioned by a relatively wealthy patron for an upper class residence.
Exhibition History

32Q: 2600 East Asian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 12/03/2015 - 06/07/2016

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu